In recognition of their distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications, John Baugh and Barbara Kunkel have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. Kunkel and Baugh are among seven Washington University faculty and nearly 500 total association members to earn the lifetime distinction of AAAS Fellow this year. The new fellows will be inducted Feb. 13, 2021, during the virtual AAAS Annual Meeting.
"John and Barbara are highly regarded researchers in their fields, and this honor is exceptionally well deserved," said Feng Sheng Hu, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. "The fact that we have scholars in both linguistics and plant biology elected as fellows this year highlights the breadth and depth of scientific expertise in Arts & Sciences."
Baugh was selected as a AAAS Fellow in the areas of Linguistics and Language Science. He was recently elected to become president of the world’s largest association advancing the scientific study of language, the Linguistic Society of America. At WashU, Baugh serves in many more capacities.
Baugh, the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences, is not only a professor in linguistics, but also in psychology, anthropology, education, English, and African and African-American studies. He has published in legal affairs, urban studies, and sociology, as well. Baugh is a vital cog in helping to develop students who major or minor in African and African-American Studies. Yet linguistics has been the primary thrust of his research and acclaim. AAAS noted this honor results from “distinguished contributions to scholarly work, combined with major contributions in bringing linguistic science to bear on issues of public policy and social justice.”
Baugh's work includes quantitative and experimental studies of linguistic variations among African Americans, a track that evolved into applied research devoted to policy issues in education, medicine, and law. From there, Baugh studied other populations who experience various forms of linguistic discrimination, including deaf communities and speakers who lack fluency in their societies’ languages or dialects.
Baugh is the author or co-author of six books, most recently Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice in 2018. He earned a bachelor’s at Temple, and both his master’s and doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. He arrived at WashU in 2005 as director of African and African American Studies. Baugh was named a Pioneer of Fair Housing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2004 and, among other honors, awards, and national projects, served a residential fellowship with the Rockefeller Foundation in 2016.
Kunkel, professor of biology, is being honored for important discoveries of how the bacterial plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae uses multiple strategies to manipulate its plant host’s hormone biology to promote pathogenesis and disease.
Kunkel’s research group is using a combination of molecular and genetic approaches to identify both pathogen and plant genes that govern development of disease. These studies have led to insights regarding mechanisms of virulence. As a recent illustration, editors from a professional journal highlighted her August 2020 paper about the plant hormone auxin as “another example of how plant hormones can be used by microbes as an environmental cue, which seems to be emerging as a common strategy as scientists learn more about how pathogens and parasites sense their plant hosts.” Her current research focuses on understanding how P. syringae senses and responds to auxin as a signal for coordinating expression of virulence genes required at different stages during pathogenesis.
Kunkel earned her bachelor’s degree in genetics at the University of California, Davis, and her doctorate in cellular and developmental biology at Harvard University. Before coming to Washington University in 1994, she completed a postdoctoral research appointment at the University of California at Berkeley. Kunkel is a Packard Foundation Fellow (1996–2003) and a Searle Scholar (1996–99).
At Washington University, Kunkel has been recognized as an exceptional teacher; she was awarded the College of Arts & Sciences’ David Hadas Teaching Award in 2016 and the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015. Kunkel was program director for the graduate program in plant biology from 2008–13. She served as co-director of the BioSURF summer undergraduate research fellowship (2016–17) and as director of the university’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate research fellowship program (2008–15).
A version of this article first appeared on The Source.